Reduce, reuse, and “upcycle.” That final term references a practice of taking waste material or goods and creating something new.
Maybe you’ve seen sandals made with soles from old car tire tread. Jacket companies use fibers from plastic soda bottles to make a synthetic fleece.
A new upcycling venture to debut this fall comes from Keen, a large company known mainly for its sandals and shoes. The products, to be sold as a part of what’s called Keen’s Harvest series, will take leftover automobile airbags and turn them into backpacks, totes, messenger bags, and wallets.
To test it out, I got an early-release Harvest III Backpack, a $120 pack made for biking and casual use. It’s a neat-looking product, including a simple “sack” design with few frills and a body made of rubbery airbag material.
Keen gets its airbags from a recycler in Salt Lake City and makes the Harvest series products one by one in a factory in California. Because of differences in the upcycled material, each bag is unique.
Beyond the pack, the line includes a $120 messenger bag, a tote for $70, and wallets that start at $20. They are hand-sewn and signed individually by the worker who built them.
While a neat and arty premise, do not expect great performance for outdoor activities. These are casual products, not technical goods. The pack, for example, has no frame, no padding and shoulder straps that are made with a thin foam.
To close the pack, a lid folds down and attaches with one buckle. But the lid on my test pack did not fully cover the top opening, leaving the pack’s interior exposed to rain.
There is no hip belt or sternum strap. There’s not a laptop sleeve inside, either, which to me would seem a nice addition for this urban-theme pack.
But what’s missing in performance is made up for in looks and plain everyday utility. With its raw, handmade aesthetic, this pack will turn heads and start conversations. Fortunately, because it’s made of leftover airbags you’ll have something interesting to talk about.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.